Voice is the next interface, but what does that mean for mobile security?

By John Chambers, Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures and former CEO and Chairman of Cisco

Ten years ago, I would have said that voice was an interface of the past. Yet today, the voice revolution is well underway and it’s becoming clear that voice will, in fact, be the next major interface. Just look at the proliferation and capabilities of virtual assistants and voice-activated devices, whether it’s asking Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo to turn down the thermostat, having Google Home recite your schedule for the day, or instructing Apple’s Siri to read your emails out loud. While nearly one in five Americans has access to a smart speaker today, Gartner predicts that 75 percent of households in the U.S. will have smart speakers by 2020.

We’re already witnessing the benefits of these voice-activated devices, but this is only the beginning of this rapidly evolving market transition. As voice technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives, countries, companies, and individuals must brace themselves for the rise of sophisticated surveillance tactics. Today, our most used devices can quickly turn from smartphone to spyware. Just look at the capabilities of NSO Group, whose technology appears to have enabled organizations to secretly record conversations from the phones of some of the most powerful government officials and prominent news reporters in the world.

Concerned? If not, just look at a few of the promises of AI-driven voice profiling. In the future, voice forensics fueled by AI could provide intel on a caller’s age, gender, ethnicity, height, weight, health status, emotional state, educational level and socioeconomic class. Even more alarming, this technology could give cybercriminals clues about the caller’s location, room size, clutter in the room and even the wall, ceiling and floor type.

As the shift to voice continues to quickly progress, security will be more important than ever especially for enterprises and government agencies that are dealing with highly confidential or sensitive information. Here’s why:

Why Mobile Security is Now your CIO’s Top Priority

We’re quickly approaching an era where people are shifting from typing to talking. Voice is the most natural response, but our conversations can be easily swept up by digital assistants or the applications in our mobile devices if the right security measures are not in place. By nature, mobile devices are untrustworthy and designed for connectivity rather than security. Hackers can easily take advantage of microphones and other sensors in our smartphones to listen, watch and track users – gathering intel about both personal and professional lives.

Mobile vulnerabilities can be a nightmare for companies by exposing their real-time operations, trade secrets and most competitive advantages. Cybercriminals have already shown the ability to turn smartphone microphones into surveillance points to capture audio without leaving any trace. Just look at the case the 28-year-old computer programmer who was charged earlier this year for a 13-year cybertheft campaign, during which he stole personal data from thousands of people by remotely controlling their devices and listening in to the conversations of his unsuspecting victims. While these surveillance methods have been around more than a decade, we’re witnessing a sharp rise in increasingly sophisticated forms of malware that make it easier than ever before to spy through our devices and gather our information.

Since we carry our cellphones with us practically everywhere we go, enterprises and governments must enforce burdensome restrictions on their mobile devices, which can reduce workforce connectivity, cause unnecessary delays and lower employee morale. Luckily, there are new cybersecurity products and best practices that ensure your organization’s mission-critical information stays confidential.

How to Ensure Your Private Conversations Stay Private

In today’s digital environment, cybersecurity threats are evolving faster than ever before. The shift to voice in particular will require citizens, companies and even countries to reconsider how they handle mobile-related security threats. Securing your voice requires securing the sensors on your smartphone. While several software solutions exist that prevent surveillance and mobile espionage, the only way to truly secure your smartphones is through a hardware and software solution. Software solutions alone can’t protect the entire ecosystem of your smartphone, and therefore, won’t protect your private conversations.

That’s why I’m incredibly excited about JC2 Ventures’ investment in Privoro, a security startup focused on closing the mobile hardware security gap. Today, Privoro launched their new SafeCase, a first-of-its-kind extensible hardware and software smartphone case that protects against mobile espionage. The SafeCase utilizes patented, proprietary technology that includes adaptive audio masking to ensure private conversations are unidentifiable to even the most seasoned audio forensics expert. By working around the phone, rather than inside its vulnerable ecosystem, the SafeCase ensures that your most private conversations and sensitive information stays private.

I’ve already had the pleasure of working closely with Privoro’s founder and CEO Mike Fong, who started Privoro in 2013 with the mission of protecting our most important, personal devices. Mike and the entire Privoro team have a powerful vision for the future of mobile security in the age of voice, and I’m thrilled to work closely with them as they continue to ensure privacy and security in today’s ultra-connected world.

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